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Contextualising Challenges in Rural Development. A view from Social Research Alberto Arce Wageningen University (Rural Development Sociology). The Context of Challenges in Rural Development. Challenges are conceptualised as:

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Contextualising Challenges in Rural Development

A view from Social Research

Alberto Arce

Wageningen University

(Rural Development Sociology)

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The Context of Challenges in Rural Development

Challenges are conceptualised as:

IEvents which are related to the contemporary intervals of connections and disconnections (flows) between:

a)local rural patterns of commoditisation and

b)the changing nature of local social relations

II These critical interconnections evolve between rural people and intervening parties often giving rise to strains, tensions or contradictions.

III The outcome of this process can be the repositioning of rural livelihoods and the re-establishment of a new senses of community belonging.

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The scenario

Globalisation processes are affecting local rural communities and livelihoods across the world.

We are confronted with a confused scenario (foggy/ ambiguous) among academics and practitioners regarding what is really happening in the ‘real world’ of rural development.

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The era of intangible resources


  • Is knowledge a resource for development?

    Knowledge is commonly identified as a strategic resource to achieve economic success in development processes(see World Bank report 1988-99).


  • In social analysis knowledge and human agency are not just conceptualised as a strategic resource that experts can manipulate or use in their making capacity to achieve an objective or make a difference to a pre-existing state of affairs or course of action.

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The social understanding of knowledge

  • In developmental sociology the notion of knowledge and human agency are considered from the distinctive dimension of social life and a focus on how actors experience the world and how these experiences become effective through human creative action.

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Creative action

  • We have contextualised changes (rural restructuring and new ruralities) as events, and new rural situations, which establish themselves within and between existing practices and skills.

  • Social researchers use this approach to refer to the general awareness that local actors have about a changing world and also to their ability and capacity to acknowledge their own creative action and innovations.

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Creative Action as the Context to Innovation

  • The notion of creative action makes us to suggest that innovation is then a potential capacity that everyone possess and should not be associated just with science, technology and scientific experts. For local actors innovations are the result of the selective incorporation of experiences, ideas and beliefs, which are brought to bear on events and in new rural situation.

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External Innovations

  • Any external innovation necessarily will enter the existing life-world of the individuals and groups affected and thus, as it were, come to form part of the resources and constrain of local people creative actions. In this way, so-called external innovations are internalised and may come to mean quite different things to different interest groups or actors.

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Innovation approaches

  • Innovation approaches need to be combined with an understanding of wider global processes, since processes outside the immediate social site of interaction usually shape many of the choices perceived and actions pursued by the parties concerned.

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Three illustrative examples:

Transnational Migration (Peru)

Property Rights and Biotechnology (Bolivia)

Agro-Food Co-Innovation Network (Chile)

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The contextualising challenges in rural development are influenced by:

1:Transnational migration.

2:Property rights, biotechnology initiatives and the usefulness of genomics to revalorise native crops.

3:Agro-food innovation networks and the significance of clusters for rural repositioning and regional development

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Challenges in Rural Development: influenced by:

  • How do we deal with innovations and technology that local people have established in their communities as a result of global transnational migration?

  • Are these innovations potential platforms for strengthening links between local people and development practioners diffusing ICT in rural communities? Are these local self-organised innovations a solid base for rural communities to embrace the challenges of the information age?

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Challenges in Rural Development influenced by:

  • How can we demand international cooperation to mediate in issues of property rights and biotechnology?

  • How can we generate global design driven cooperation and communication between rural farmers communities, scientists, social movements, business groups and policy makers to determine the nature of bio-technological innovations. But, also to contribute to move genomic pure science to the design of genomic based agricultural rural commodities to revalue native crops?

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Challenges in Rural Development influenced by:

  • We need to provide a perspective on the emerging experiences linking: consumer, private business, state and regional development driven clusters. This institutional innovations that are repositioning agricultural activities, while mobilising the service and knowledge based sector. Connecting regional and global spaces. (like in the Chilean case).

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Challenges in Rural Development influenced by:

We need to close the distance between the social research, done by academics, and the applied work of international institutes and organisations, NGOs, civil society groups and private business. We need to formulate an agenda with social policy relevance on creative action and institutional innovations in rural development.

The orientation of this agenda should be public service at a global level. The aim should be to reposition rural activities in an integrated knowledge-based, natural science and social research framework.

To assemble a development policy strategy for a line of competitive commodity consumer-driven rural products and services across the globe, in order to achieve regional growth and reinforce the contemporary sense of belonging to local rural settlements.